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Coric Defence Acquittal Calls

Lawyer claims prosecution has failed to prove any of the 26 charges against her client.
The lawyer of a Bosnian Croat suspect on trial at the tribunal this week said the case against her client should be dropped as prosecutors had failed to prove any charges.

Valentin Coric, on trial with five other former leaders of Herceg Bosna, a self-proclaimed Croat statelet in Bosnia, is accused of the persecution, rape, expulsion and murder of Bosniaks in 1993.

“[The prosecution] has failed to prove that Coric is responsible under any mode of responsibility for any of the crimes he is charged with in the indictment,” defence lawyer Vesna Tomasegovic Tomic told the tribunal.

“The defence moves that Coric be acquitted on all 26 counts.”

Last week, the prosecution finished its case against the six accused. Under tribunal rules, the defence can seek the acquittal of the defendants on any counts that it considers have not been proven.

While Tomasegovic Tomic did not tackle every count in the indictment, she pointed to particular instances where she believed the charges had not been proven.

She first questioned the strength of the prosecution’s case relating to the charge of rape, insisting that “precious little evidence was called regarding incidences of rape”.

The indictment states that “Herceg Bosna/HVO [Croatian army] forces frequently robbed, abused and humiliated the Bosniak women”.

Tomasegovic Tomic cited the testimony of a witness who had testified anonymously about rapes that took place in the municipality of Prozor in central Bosnia in 1993.

The witness described troops dressed in black who came to her village and took women away. The woman said that while three armed men entered her house at night, only one of them was wearing HVO insignia. She herself had been taken into the woods and raped by a man wearing civilian clothes.

Tomasegovic Tomic denied that this evidence incriminated her client.

“The witness did not have any knowledge as to the affiliation of the perpetrators,” she told the court.

Referring to a second witness who was imprisoned and raped in the region and had testified in the case, Tomasegovic Tomic noted that she had said “the [HVO] guards were very good towards them”.

She went on to say the prosecution had failed to prove the rapists, as alleged in the indictment, were under Coric’s command. Since it had not been established that her client knew about the crimes, he could not be held responsible for failing to prevent or punish them.

According to Tomasegovic Tomic, the prosecution had failed to show “what legislation was in force…and what the duties of the military police under those laws were”.

She added that Marjan Biskic, a Croatian army officer who testified at the trial, had said that filing criminal reports relating to military personnel was not a duty exclusive to the military police.

“The prosecution has failed to prove that the crimes are within the jurisdiction of the military police and has failed to prove what the duties of the military police are, if indeed there are any,” said Tomasegovic Tomic.

“This is a prerequisite [to remove] any doubt about whether military police committed such omissions in their work that would entail criminal responsibility.”

Coric was in charge of various security forces in Herceg Bosna, and is charged with being part of a “joint criminal enterprise” to ethnically cleanse the statelet and join it to a “Greater Croatia” alongside the five other former political and military leaders on trial - Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stolic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic and Berislav Pusic.

Tomasegovic Tomic spent some time addressing the alleged joint criminal enterprise, which is described in the indictment as a “knowing participation in a system of ill-treatment involving a network of Herceg Bosna/ HVO prisons…which were systematically used in detaining thousands of Bosnian Muslims where they were subject to or exposed to beatings, sexual abuse and other deprivations”.

She argued that the prosecution had failed to show Coric had intended crimes to be committed or actually took part in any abuse himself.

According to the charges, Coric was aware of the substantial likelihood that “the acts and conduct which he promoted, instigated encouraged or facilitated” would lead to him being charged with responsibility for those crimes.

But the defence was adamant that no such crimes occurred and that there was no systematic attack against Bosniaks.

“The prosecution does not have any evidence that Coric intended any plan that included rape. Nor that there was any plan at all,” said Tomasegovic Tomic.

The defence also denied that Coric had incited subordinates to commit crimes as stated by the charge of “aiding or abetting the commission of each crime”, listed in the indictment.

Referring to previous cases heard by the tribunal, Tomasegovic Tomic said that in order to prove a defendant has provoked someone to commit abuse, the prosecution must prove a link between provocation on the part of the commander and the crime being carried out.

“The prosecution has failed to prove the existence of such a causal relationship,” she said.

“The prosecution must show that the perpetrators of crimes were members of the military police and definite units of the military police exercised effective control over these persons.”

To support her demand that the charges be dropped, Tomasegovic Tomic invoked the right of the accused to an expeditious trial, under the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” she told the trial chamber.

“The defence believes that it is up to the trial chamber to drop all charges which may lead to the fact of this trial being too long.”

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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